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9th Annual Peterboro Emancipation Day

Posted on Thursday, August 16, 2018 at 9:40 pm


A group photo at Peterboro Emancipation Day 2017 in front of the Gerrit Smith Estate Barn, from whence fugitives from slavery were transported to Oswego to get to Canada.

The Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark committee for the 9th Annual Peterboro Emancipation Day has announced its programs for Saturday, August 4, 2018. The annual Gathering begins at 10:00 a.m. on the grounds of the Gerrit Smith Estate. Co-chairs Jim Corpin, Carrie Martin, and Max Smith will welcome the public and lead the program. Following the Gathering, two wreaths will be carried to the Peterboro Cemetery in a public procession. The wreaths are laid upon the humble grave of Gerrit Smith and on a grave of a person “Born in Slavery. Died a free (Wo)Man.” This year wreaths will be laid on the graves of Maria Howard and Thomas Jefferson Potter. Prior to the event these graves were unmarked. Thanks to a generous benefactor two gravestones will be set for the Emancipation Day ceremony.


Maria Howard died on Feb 17, 1869 at fifty years of age at the residence of Rev. William F. Bridge, who was the last minister at the Free Church of Peterboro and, at the same time, Principal of the Peterboro Evans Academy.  Rev. Bridge conducted Howard’s funeral. Maria was one of thirty-seven slaves who were owned by Elias Creswell of New Orleans LA and freed by Gerrit Smith in 1852.  She was also one of the last of seventeen who came to Peterboro, and then apparently lived in other towns in the area – including with the Daniel Dorrance family in Vernon.


Thomas Jefferson Potter was born a slave about 1816, in an unknown place.  Potter’s freedom was later purchased by Naaham Goodsell of Clinton NY who also paid for Potter’s education.  Potter later moved to Peterboro where he subscribed to the Madison & Onondaga Abolitionist, a Cazenovia newspaper, in 1841.  At an 1842 Cazenovia anti-slavery convention, a long letter from Potter was read in which the writer indicated:  “I ask the whole American people, had I not rather die, or be put to death, than to be a slave to any tyrant who takes not only my own, but my wife and children’s lives, by inches?”  On June 7, 1843, Thomas Potter died “near Peterboro,” and his obituary confirms his attendance at Gerrit Smith’s Manual Labor School. His funeral was conducted by Rev. Abel Schofield.


The afternoon program The Evolution of Slavery and the Heroes Who Fight It: Discussions of My Travels from Peterboro and the Home of Gerrit Smith to Montgomery AL and the Home of the Equal Justice Initiative will be presented by Jacob Donovan-Colin. Donovan volunteered at the opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in April 2018. He will share his experience with pictures.


The public is encouraged to participate in all or part of the Emancipation Day activities at the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark, 5304 Oxbow Road, Peterboro NY 13134. For more information or 315- 657-8461.

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